As a father of a 15 year-old girl, watching 13 reasons why was an uncomfortable, stressful experience. The Netflix original show bravely uncovered topics that are difficult to discuss: sex, bullying, underage drinking, drugs and rape to name a few. It was hard to watch in parts, but I think it is a show that we can all learn a lot from. Having recently published a book on stress, this show was a great example of how poorly we handle stress.
Teenage suicide (suicide in general) is an awful tragedy and is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 14-25. There are at least 13 reasons why people take their own life. To me, they all stem from the feeling that you can’t handle the situation. We are all better at handling things than we think and the fictional story of Hannah Baker, Clay and the students of Liberty High has a lot of lessons for all of us, and I think we can all learn at least 13 things from the show.
1. Tribes are important. The character of Hannah was lonely. She moved to a new school and found it difficult to fit in. She found it hard to find her tribe. She wasn’t a Jock, she wasn’t a cheerleader, and she wasn’t a nerd. She was a smart, beautiful young woman and like all teenagers, she was looking for the security of a tribe, she wanted to be part of something. Being alone makes stress stick.
2. One good friend is enough; then it’s not. Can a tribe be just two people? It certainly was for Hannah and Jessica (add Alex also) for a while there. The problem with only having one friend is that, when they let you down, (and they will let you down) you are back to being alone. You need a group (a tribe) around you and can’t put all your eggs in one basket.
3. Resilience is crucial. Resilience is born out of overcoming adversity. We’ve all heard the saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I think that overcoming challenges is how we get stronger. Hannah Baker had several issues and you can’t help but think she would have come out the other end stronger and more resilient. Toxic stress is the fear you can’t handle the situation. You can. Tragedy would have been averted if Hannah believed it.
4. The danger of dominant thoughts. If you have a stressful, dominant thought, that feels threatening, it will ruminate in your head until you deal with the threat. In a counterproductive blip of evolution, long-term stress is like wearing blinkers. You become defensive and dumb. Constantly focussing on the threatening situation stops your brain from finding positive solutions.
5.Get comfortable with discomfort. There is always going to be stress and pain and we must learn how to get comfortable with it and learn to utilise stress for growth. Hannah was scared going into the poetry group. She pushed through it and did something extraordinary, she grew. Had Clay been more comfortable with discomfort, he would have been braver and told Hannah how he felt.
6. Two wrongs don’t make a right. People not just teenagers can be mean. Often if we feel wronged by someone the natural reaction is to wrong them back. They did X to me, so I’m going to do Y to them. This type of logic simply adds to the stress of any situation and decreases your sense of self-worth. Being an arsehole is stressful, no matter what someone has done to you first. Hannah’s reactions to Zach in the diner or Clay at the party spring to mind.
7. Revenge suicide is not an option. The idea that I’m am going to kill myself as a form of revenge is disturbing in the extreme. Revenge suicide is real and it shows how confused a suicidal person must be if they see this as an option. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Living well is the best revenge”.
8. Stress is contagious. As a parent, the most disturbing thing about the show was that Hannah didn’t talk to her parents. I have a theory that the reason was because they were both so stressed about their failing business. Stress is contagious, and perhaps the parental stress added to Hannah’s belief that she couldn’t handle the situation. Should parents hide our stresses from their children? I don’t think so. What parents need to be is an example, show our kids that life has challenges and that overcoming them is the foundations for growth.
9.Self-awareness is essential. You can’t control what other people do; you can only control how you react to them. Hannah over reacted to a lot of situations that weren’t a big deal (best arse list, Jessica and Alex hooking up) and it was her reaction that inflamed the situation, not the situation itself.
10.You need to feel safe, to be honest. Clay and Hannah really liked each other but couldn’t let the other one know because they didn’t feel secure, safe and confident. How many of the stressors in life would disappear if you knew you were safe and knew you could handle the situation? How much easier would it be to declare your love for someone if you knew you would be OK no matter what their response.
11. Give the bully a moment of poise. Speaking to young people about the show, they all said that “13 reasons” will make the bullies understand that their comments can hurt people. Most of the Bryces in the world will always be misogynistic, arsehole alpha males are always going to be selfish narcissists. If the show gives these people a moment of self-awareness and poise then it has helped.
12. Social media hurts and needs an off button. There is a significant correlation between social media usage and depression. It’s a “chicken and egg” argument, but one thing’s for sure, social media cannot replace touch, love and face to face friendship. The illusion of anonymity makes some kids say things that they would never say to someone’s face. The internet can make people mean. My daughter has made a rule for herself, “don’t post anything that you wouldn’t show your Grandmother”. It’s good advice. Less time on Facebook and more time outside is a great start to dealing with the challenges of social media.
13. The show has started conversations. Finding a way to communicate with grunting teenagers is always a challenge. Parents don’t know anything and they will just make things worse. Perhaps watching 13 reasons will bridge some of these voids and let kids know that mum and dad were kids once and that they may be able to help. I was bullied on the bus when I was 12 and ended up catching two buses to avoid my older tormentors. I never told my parents. A show like this may have changed that.
If nothing else, watching the show together will get a conversation started about how to deal with the difficulties of being a teenager.
In the book Stress Teflon I made a statement that people who are contemplating suicide need to think about.
Is the world a better place because you are in it?
If the answer is no….think again.
If the answer is still no, DO something positive and contribute.
Make the world a better place because you are in it. Help someone, love someone and care for the people around you. Everyone has the ability to improve their own lives and the lives of the people around them.
To me, 13 reasons why has been an education into the minds of teenagers today. The technology has changed, but the problems and issues are still the same as they were a generation or two ago.
If you are a parent, watch it with your kids and let the conversation flow. As an adult, you may just learn something and grow closer to your children.